India’s Ban on BBC Modi Documentary ‘Endangers Press Freedom’ | Narendra Modi news

Several media watchdogs have condemned the Indian government’s decision to ban a BBC documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and criticized the use of emergency powers to prevent the clips being accessed or shared online in India.

An adviser to India’s Information and Broadcasting Ministry said on Saturday that Twitter and YouTube had been told to block links sharing the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question, which the government had earlier called a “play of propaganda”.

The documentary questions Modi’s leadership as chief minister during riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002 in which an estimated 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Human rights activists put the toll at around 2,500.

The International Press Institute (IPI) on Wednesday expressed ‘alarm’ over authorities invoking emergency laws to block the documentary, saying the country’s 2021 IT rules give the government ‘broad and unchecked powers’ to control and censor online content and media.

“The Modi government is clearly abusing emergency powers under IT rules to punish or restrict any criticism of its policies,” said IPI Advocacy Director Amy Brouillette.

“We urge private platforms to continue pushing back against the Modi government’s overbroad and unwarranted censorship demands,” she continued. “Online platforms must ensure that their compliance with these demands does not aid the government’s ongoing campaign to silence critics, journalists and activists in India.”

Social media giants – Twitter and YouTube – complied with the government order.

Last week, the government introduced an amendment to IT rules that requires platforms to remove content deemed “false or untrue” by the government to protect “national sovereignty” and public order.

These latest moves are part of a wider attack on press freedom in India since Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party came to power in 2014.

On Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said ordering social media platforms to block the documentary constitutes “an attack on the free press that flagrantly contradicts the country’s stated commitment to democratic ideals.” .

“Authorities must immediately restore full and unrestricted access to the documentary and remove regulations under the Information Technology Act that jeopardize press freedom and freedom of expression online,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

Shrinking space for freedom of expression

For digital rights activists and organizations in India, the government’s censorship of the documentary – invoking Rule 16 of the 2021 IT Rules – has been a long time coming.

“Most of the actions taken by the authorities between December 2021 and April 2022 were against [social media] channels that were not based in India, as far as you could tell where a YouTube channel was based,” Prateek Waghre, policy director at internet watchdog Freedom Foundation, told Al Jazeera.

“Since April, we have seen chain-based incidents in India. Once this shift started to happen, there was always a question of which national dissenting voices can be targeted next. »

Successive governments have always found ways to deal with dissent or opposition, but under Modi control of social media has been legalized.

“While you could argue yes, there must be an element of control, what’s happening in India has been largely executive,” Waghre said. “There is a lot of discretionary control at the management level with minimal oversight. And that’s where the problem is. »

The political director said the space for vocal opposition from civil society and the media has become “smaller and smaller”.

“Companies tend not to take an adversarial position, at least in public, but we don’t know how much they challenge government orders behind closed doors,” Waghre said.

One exception is Twitter, which is currently suing the Indian government over content removal orders given last summer. But given the social media giant’s recent new ownership, it remains to be seen whether the company will have the long-term appetite to follow through on its case.

“The Voice of Dissent”

Meanwhile, students across the country have pledged to screen the documentary in all Indian states, a day after the screening at Jawaharlal Nehru University campus was interrupted by a power cut and bullying from opponents.

“They will not stop the voice of dissent,” said Mayukh Biswas, secretary general of the Student Federation of India (SFI), the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

A warning was issued by New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University on Tuesday against gatherings of unapproved students ahead of SFI’s scheduled screening of the BBC documentary on Wednesday evening, NDTV reported.

Police then detained more than a dozen students there about an hour before the screening, according to the broadcaster.

Delhi police did not immediately confirm whether students were being detained, but said there had been a massive deployment of police and security forces in riot gear at the university.

The deployment was to “maintain law and order” both due to the screening and India’s Republic Day on January 26, police said.

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